Billikens historic season comes to an end

It was a remarkable run.

The 2013-14 Billikens won a school-record 19 games in a row, posted an 11-1 road record, collected the program’s second-consecutive Atlantic 10 title and earned a top-10 ranking for the first time in 40 years. All of which culminated with an improbable come-from-behind victory over North Carolina State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, Saint Louis’ postseason run ended sooner than most had hoped it would, but it certainly left its mark, rallying from a 16-point deficit with eight minutes to play to stun the Wolfpack in overtime and advance to the third round for the third year in a row.

It was a miraculous comeback that will not be soon forgotten, orchestrated almost entirely by a senior class whose contributions to the program will forever be remembered.

On Wednesday afternoon, coach Jim Crews met with the media to recap the 2013-14 season. He discussed a myriad of topics, but when the conversation shifted to seniors Jake Barnett, Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall Jr., Jordair Jett and Rob Loe, he could not help but smile as he spoke about their contributions to the program and their completion of “the process.”

“They got the most out of their careers that they could get out… They came through with championships, a lot of wins and went to the tournament three times,” he explained. “You miss seniors, but I don’t miss seniors that much to tell you the truth, because the college and the basketball experience is supposed to prepare them for a bigger and better future.

“They’re moving to a different chapter, so I’m excited for those guys. They’ll do bigger and better things than being a good basketball player and playing on good teams and everything… That’s what’s fun about college, seeing kids go through the whole situation—seeing them come in as freshmen and when they pop out as seniors, that’s pretty rewarding to watch.”

The coach raved about the seniors’ ability to pinpoint particular opportunities elsewhere on the floor for a teammate to have success and their blue-collar work ethic. It’s an approach they learned from their predecessors and now they are paying it forward.

This program-wide commitment player development is why Evans, Barnett, Jett, McCall and Loe will graduate as the winningest class in school history. And it is why the future remains bright for Saint Louis men’s basketball.

“The season’s a long season and…it’s tiring,” Crews said. “But [on Tuesday] I met with all our guys that are returning and I’m really excited. What I heard in those meetings and how they responded—I knew I was going to get excited eventually here, but I thought I’d have to be tired for a little bit. They gave me a little hop in my step. I was just so encouraged by what they said and how much they’re looking forward to it and their contributions this year—their responsibilities going to more of a primary from more of a role situation. It’s really good.”

With the unique benefit of fielding an all-senior starting five comes the equally unusual challenge of having to retool an entire starting lineup the next season. These new opportunities will lead to competition, which Crews firmly believes is the best way to improve a team. But within these battles lies a life lesson and one of the defining qualities of Billiken basketball—for each player, there must be a balance between self responsibility and team responsibility, an understanding of the bigger picture.

“Everyone wants to do well. That’s human nature,” he said. “But at the same time you have self responsibilities and you have group responsibilities…

“Grandy Glaze—he’s a really good teammate. I’m talking to him on Tuesday and I said to him, ‘Grandy, I’m just really proud of you. You were encouraging guys and some of those guys were taking away some of your minutes at the end.’ And he said, ‘It’s not about me. It’s about the program. I’m not going to be here forever. No one else is either.’ That’s a pretty mature attitude…and very unselfish.”

The identity and core values of this program personified. An admirable approach shared by the players and their coach that is applicable both in- and outside the game of basketball.

“We try to promote that it’s bigger than any of us,” Crews explained. “That should be the same way with their families, neighborhood or community. It’s bigger than anybody.”